Return To The End (Regresar al Final)
10 Jun 2022
Mario Olivares, Daniel Contesse, Paula Edwards, Ricardo Herrera, Paula Leoncini
In Chile a family is devastated throughout the lockdown and beyond.
Writer/director Gustavo Leterier's film Regresar al Final (Return to the End) tells the story of Esteban (Olivares) and the strained relationships he has with the rest of his family. There is a common distance between each family member, grown from things which have happened in the past, things which some have held onto tightly, and things which some have let go of all too easily. Everybody now lives very separate lives and a gulf has opened up between Esteban and the rest of his family. This distance only gets extended when the Covid-19 outbreak begins to take hold and lockdown is enforced onto people's lives.
Following the death of his mother in 2018 from what was an apparent suicide, Esteban blames his father for not being there, and for showing a perceived favouritism towards his sister. This leads to Esteban leaving home and setting out by himself to build his own future. It seems, however, that even his new relationships aren't always built on the most solid ground and Esteban struggles to say the right things or consider his partner's feelings when he finds a new boyfriend.
Fast forward a couple of years and Esteban now truly finds himself alone as the global pandemic makes travel and meeting people exponentially more difficult. He still hasn't repaired his relationship with his sister (Edwards) or his father (Herrera), he never calls his Aunt Mercedes (Leoncini) and even his boyfriend Daniel (Contesse) has gone back to America to try and find out what has happened to his parents. This all leaves everyone very disparate and hard to communicate with as one by one the ghosts of the family's past come back to haunt them into the new dystopian future.
Return To The End then, is a standard lockdown story, with everyone trying to come to terms with the distance between them. The metaphor of the pandemic is basic, substituting one barrier to communication and reconciliation for myriad others that have already come before. Letelier does his best to imbue his film with heavy emotions and deep running themes but in the end there's not enough to lift Esteban's story from being just another lockdown analogy.
Mostly this comes down to the restrictions set on the film-maker by the overarching scenario. Once more characters are separated from interacting with one another and most of the film is played out over Zoom or other face-time mediums. This means everyone is acting in isolation for most of the film, as well as acting into the camera rather than for the camera. In addition, the restrictiveness of the premise means that the direction is taken mostly out of the director's hands and a lot of the scenes we witness are people sitting in rooms with sparse walls behind them and no camera movement.
In Return To The End this is especially disappointing as the few scenes which are cut into the story and interspersed throughout the film; those that are set outside the confines of a Zoom call; are actually very well shot and stunning to look at. With such skill and eye for the frame, it is a shame that Letelier chooses to restrict himself and throttle the film's creativity just to make another lockdown story.
There is plenty to grab onto in Return To The End, and some may find the family dynamics and personal struggles enough to keep them interested through to the conclusion. There are some nice pieces in amongst all of the bland backgrounds and the production, including the score from Pablo Avila Champin, shows that care and attention has been put into the making of the film. Ultimately though, it feels as though there have been too many self-imposed restrictions keeping the story and the filming flat and there's nothing to lift it from being a tired metaphor for a feeling we're all tired of by now.